A little bit Minecraft, a few parts Legend of Zelda, a chunk of Lego and Diablo, Riverbond will remind you of a lot of other games. With colorful, destructible, voxel-built environments, it’s a hack-and-slash isometric adventure game for one to four players. There’s a little bit of rogue-lite mixed in, too, as there are no save points in levels, though there are multiple re-spawn points.
Riverbond makes an immediate good impression: it’s very satisfying to roam through an environment/level, using a variety of increasingly useful weapons found along the way to battle enemies and destroy the world while also looking for health vials, skins and other goodies. Within each of Riverbond’s progressively more challenging eight levels — which can be tackled in any order — the basic design template doesn’t much change. There are annoying trash mobs, more powerful enemies and mini-bosses, and a big bad at the end. Make it through intact and your character grows in size, strength and power.
Although everything is built using colorful, Minecraft-like voxels, there is quite a bit of variety in Riverbond’s level design, ranging from outdoor environments to claustrophobic dungeons and interiors. Your hero has no name and whatever overarching story there is, it doesn’t do much to drive the action. Instead, each level is populated by a steady drip of quest-giver NPCs who point you to the next objective, which generally consists of tasks like freeing captives, lighting torches or gathering items. Complete the task and the door to the next area opens.
Because your hero only has five weapon slots and each level includes several more than that to add to your arsenal, choices must be made along the way. There’s usually a heavy club, a few ranged weapons (including ray guns, bows and fire shooters), some two-handed swords and many other variations on standard RPG weaponry. There’s usually a pretty good match between the weapons and the weaknesses of enemies and healing items are rather plentiful. Death isn’t much of a penalty, and enemies don’t respawn once defeated.
While carving a path of destruction through the generally linear levels is simple-minded fun, some aspects of Riverbond’s combat can be frustrating. With no enemy lock-on, using ranged weapons turns into a twin-stick shooter-like experience, where spraying ammo in approximately the right direction is the most precise you can get. Especially from mid-game on, Riverbond amps up the difficulty primarily through sheer numbers of enemies and their ability to corner you in the level’s tight spaces. While enemy design is visually varied and clever, there isn’t much difference in the way they function within the arc of a level. Of course, many of these issues go away in co-op mode, where the large collections of enemies are more easily handled by a squad.
Much of Riverbond is a lot of fun: the combat, destruction and environments are simple but addictive and satisfying and the levels are varied. I wish that there was a little more story and character to become invested in, and that there was less reliance on similar structures for each level. Combat isn’t always fun for reasons that have nothing to do with skill or weapons but baked in mechanics and design choices. Overall, the voxel aesthetic works well with the game’s gentle sense of humor and lack of real menace. Riverbond isn’t the most complex action-RPG, but a good example of form and function in harmony.